by Gretchen Elliott

From Musical News January/February 2006

Richard Riccardi, highly regarded pianist and Bay Area music teacher, has just been informed that he is a recipient of one of five awards bestowed annually upon instrumental music educators nationwide by the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. As a result, he will be flown to New York, all expenses paid, to receive the award in person at Carnegie Hall on March 24th. Richard said, “To say I’m excited about this would really be an understatement! This award came as a complete surprise.” He provided the following sequence of events that led up to the award notification:

One of our parent supporters wrote a grant for a student tuba about four years ago. The grant proposal actually went to McDonalds, but the Mister Holland’s Opus Foundation was also involved. MHO sent the tuba to us. Then, a year later, they sent a questionnaire about the program and our use of the instrument. The following year, two years ago, a gentleman by the name of Simeon Loring came out to visit. Simeon is a retired New York City high school music teacher, and he spent the entire day with me and my students – working with them and discussing music programs with me. I received a very nice thank you letter a few days later, and that was the last time I spoke with Simeon until a week ago (when) he called me from New York with the news that I was…to receive the award. In a state of disbelief, and thinking that there must be a multitude of winners, I went to their web site ( to check out the award piece and pulled up a picture of last years winners – only five from all over the country, posing in New York with Richard Dreyfuss!

According to Richard, like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the movie, he too resisted going into teaching originally; but, needing a job, he started in 1966 with an elementary general music position in Norwalk, Ohio. After a year, he accepted a similar post in Hamden, Connecticut, and stayed for five years, teaching general and instrumental music at both the elementary and junior high school levels. Next, he transferred to Westport, Connecticut, teaching elementary strings and high school orchestra. By then, he was really hooked on teaching. Unfortunately, due to a budget cut within the school system in Westport, a school was closed, and he was bumped out of the job he had really loved.

Instead of taking another teaching job, in 1974, Richard decided to move to San Francisco to embark on a career as a freelance pianist. He stayed out of teaching, at least in schools, until 1987. Then, for a period of two years, he taught general music at St. Francis Solano School in Sonoma and high school orchestra at San Domenico School. During this time, he transferred college education credits and started finishing his California teaching credential. He then started teaching in public school again: one year of part-time elementary chorus in Richmond, then full-time high school (all music subjects) at Alameda High School until 1995.

Richard says, “I thought a relaxing change would be in order in 1995, so I moved to an elementary school position in the Ross Valley School District in Fairfax and San Anselmo in Marin County. The job started with general music in grades 4 and 5 and a middle school chorus, but quickly expanded in the ensuing years.” During the second year, he took over the band program at White Hill Middle School as well, and his assignment has continued to increase. Prompted by one of his superintendents, he wrote a vision of an expanded music program – one which has largely been accepted and implemented, and which now includes a comprehensive K-8 program, both instrumental and vocal, and a department of four full-time credentialed music teachers for whom he serves as chair and coordinator. Three years ago, he started a fourth and fifth grade string program at White Hill Middle School, which has now expanded to a string orchestra – and there are also four levels of band. Some people really know how to relax!!

According to the Mister Holland’s Opus Foundation web site, the following criteria are taken into account in the selection of the winners, who must:

  • Instill a love of music in their students through instrumental music instruction in grades K-12;
  • Have the passion, dedication and leadership skills to persevere under difficult circumstances;
  • Give generously of their time, energy and talent, exceeding what is expected of music educators;
  • Demonstrate creativity regardless of availability of instruments, materials, classroom space and budget limitations;
  • Inspire students and challenge them to attain the highest level of musicianship;
  • Encourage musical growth through ongoing individual and group performance, auditions and evaluations.

Grateful students and their parents can attest to the fact that Richard easily meets these requirements, and has been doing so for many years. We join the MHO Foundation in saluting him for his accomplishments!